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2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV first drive

Affordable, practical, and downright fun, Chevy’s Bolt is an EV for the everyman

The Chevy Bolt EV is an accessible, game-changing electric you’ll actually want to drive.

20 years ago, electric vehicles lived on the fringe. Best suited for neighborhood or in-town commuting, these kooky, dawdling machines were either berated or ignored by the general public, driven almost exclusively by prosperous “influencers” from California. 10 years ago, EVs were on the rise. Their popularity and capability was increasing significantly, but they still existed outside the financial reaches of most. Tomorrow, battery-powered cars will be everywhere, they’ll be cheap, and they’ll be the norm.

Today, though, we have vehicles like the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, which bridges the gap between high-end luxury electrics and the everyday car of the future. An EV for the masses, the Bolt offers usable range at an accessible price, all wrapped in a practical crossover package that’s as simple to operate as a Honda Civic. So while my extensive automotive training leads me to believe the Bolt is indeed a car, in reality it is much more than that. It’s a bonafide game-changer.

Moving the plug downmarket

The Bolt EV’s relevance can be boiled down to two figures — 238 miles and $29,995. That’s how far you can go with a full charge and how much it’ll cost after the $7,500 Federal Tax Credit, placing it in an entirely different universe than the electrics currently on sale. For example, the Volkswagen e-Golf is a lovely city car that’ll set you back just $21,495 after incentives, but its current range is a paltry 83 miles. On the other end of the spectrum, a Tesla Model S P100D offers incredible performance and up to 315 miles of range, but it costs a whopping $118,500 after the Feds help out. If EVs were porridge from Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Bolt EV would be just right.

The Bolt EV’s relevance can be boiled down to two figures — 238 miles of range and a base price under $30,000.

Moving downmarket doesn’t mean the Bolt EV feels cheap though. Outside of a cool-looking but chintzy-feeling plastic panel on the door sills, the hatchback is fitted with quality switchgear and interesting tech throughout its surprisingly spacious interior. My loaded Premier model (which ran $33,405 after incentives) was fitted with heated leather seats, a seven-speaker Bose stereo, and General Motors’ lovely Rear Camera Mirror, but even the base LT model offers plenty to like. OnStar with 4G LTE Wi-Fi comes standard, for instance, as does the 10.2-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as 17-inch aluminum wheels.

The Bolt’s stat sheet certainly looks nice, but its character is what I was really interested in. To find out what it was like to drive, I jetted down to the hub of the electric vehicle world, Palo Alto, California.

Zippin’ and zoomin’

I expected a pleasant day out behind the wheel of the Bolt EV, but I had an unexpected realization after my first jaunt — this car is a ton of fun. It’s no Mazda MX-5 to be sure, but its low center of gravity afforded by the battery placement gives it a planted, stable feeling around corners, and the instant torque of the electric motors gives it plenty of juice for passing and spirited backroad excursions.

The Bolt’s 60kWh battery pack produces 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque, all of which is available the second you put your foot down. When you do, 0 to 60 mph comes in 6.5 seconds, so even though the hatchback weighs 3,580 pounds, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Its front-wheel drive layout and slightly nose-heavy weight distribution result in a bit of understeer, but it’s not enough to ruin the experience. Down the road, we expect Chevy to add all-wheel drive and updated battery tech to the car, giving it even more agility and traction in all weather conditions.

EVs simply have a different character than internal combustion cars, both in the way they generate power and the way they sound. The Bolt, however, has something else up its sleeve. General Motors calls it “one pedal driving,” and it boils down to using the car’s regenerative abilities to slow it down instead of the brake. All the driver has to do is flip the shifter into Low mode, which ramps up the amount of regen. After doing so, lifting off the accelerator provides a healthy amount of “engine braking” akin to a manual transmission car, only here you’re actually sending power back to the battery cells. There’s also a paddle on the steering wheel for additional regen, and using the two in concert, I hardly touched the brake pedal at all during my drive. Just how efficient is it? Chevy claims 40 miles of the Bolt’s range is attributed to its regenerative features, but if you commit to one pedal driving, you might get back even more than that.

In terms of charging, the Bolt EV offers three options — a 120V outlet cord that gives 4 miles of range per hour, a 7.2kW charger that returns 25 miles of range per hour by way of a 240V wall box, and a DC fast charging station option that grants 90 miles of range in just 30 minutes. For clarity, the first two options are standard on every Bolt EV, while the DC charger can be purchased for an additional $750.

A challenger awaits

Tesla’s Model 3 looks to be the perfect foil to the Bolt EV.

The first Bolts were delivered to customers at the end of 2016, so for the time being, the contemporary five-door will sit atop the economical EV space unchallenged. But not for long. Toward the end of 2017, Tesla will begin distributing its Model 3 to customers, and with its $27,500 post-incentive base price and 215-mile starting range, it looks to be the perfect foil to the Bolt EV. While Chevrolet has a distinct advantage with its dealership and service center network, Tesla will likely be ahead in the self-driving segment, as the only semiautonomous driving feature on the Bolt is a finicky Lane Keeping Assist system. The Model 3 is more attractive in this writer’s eyes, but by the time the first Model 3 hits the streets, the Bolt will have been on the market by almost a year. As you can tell, tough, tough choices are ahead for prospective EV buyers, but one thing is for sure — we can’t wait to get behind the wheel of both for a comparison test.

Conclusion

The Bolt EV doesn’t exactly ooze sex appeal, but make no mistake, it could very well be one of the most important cars of the millennium. It’s hard to imagine a future where other automakers don’t follow the lead set by General Motors and Tesla, and the reason is simple — electrified mobility is the future of transport, and this car democratizes the EV space more than perhaps any automobile before it. It’s more than up for long trips, it has 56.6 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear seats folded, it won’t break the bank, and by September, the Bolt EV will be available in all 50 states.

Despite all this, there are surely those who will continue to bang the fossil fuel drum, arguing electric vehicles will never be as practical, affordable, or fun as their petrol-drinking cousins. We love barbarous muscle as much as anyone, but if you happen to encounter an EV denier in the wild, there’s an easy way to change their mind: tell them to drive the Chevy Bolt.

Highs

  • Costs less than $30,000 after incentives
  • 238 miles of range
  • Spacious, comfortable cabin
  • Responsive dynamics

Lows

  • Some interior materials feel cheap
  • Lane Keeping Assist system is unrefined